Amtrak Special on the BNSF

Sunday, October 12


After a sabbatical of several weeks from train chasing I finally found a nice sunny day that was available.  I was out of Indianola around 6:30 and headed for the BNSF.  I'd had some advance information from Amtrak engineer Rich Fertig that a special train would be returning from Pacific Junction today.  There'd been some emergency evacuation training in the small town on Saturday and they were to be eastbound for Chicago around 8:00.   It was clear and 45 degrees when I left town, with a forecast of a warm fall day.

Amtrak's automated "Julie" had reported No. 6 three hours and twenty-five minutes down, with a predicted arrival in Osceola of 10:53.  As I left town, I heard 9864 West getting a warrant at Albia and also heard the Osceola detector report 536 axles on Main 2.  As I neared Hwy. 34, I could hear lots of EOT telemetry from a distributed power train on the scanner.  I turned east on the highway and headed past Lucas and up Whitebreast Hill.  There were no signals lit at the bottom of the hill near Shannon.  I took the airport road north and then turned to drive  the last couple of miles into Chariton.  Before long, I could see the cars of a coal load with a single lead unit, just hitting the HyVee warehouse crossing.  I buzzed on over to the Curtis Avenue grade crossing to intercept the load.

It was only 7:07, still before dawn, when the train approached.  I had to resort to flash to get pictures of the lead unit, BN 9617, and BNSF 9987, shoving on the rear of 131 AEPX cars.  This train would turn out to be just a little bit too much for the two units - in a few minutes they would fall down on Albia Hill.  Just as I got back in the Jeep I heard the Russell detector for Main 1, 508 axles, and a couple of minutes later, "Okay on..." messages were exchanged between 9617 and a westbound.  The westbounder came into sight at the east end of Chariton yard at 7:19.  This was a set of empty FSTX/ESCX/PSTX cars pulled by BNSF 9864 and 9831.

Around 7:30 the Osceola detector came on with a 452 axle eastbound, and then again at 8:01 with a count of 532.  Shortly, 9617 called the dispatcher to say that they could not pull Albia Hill.  At 8:06, now with plenty of early morning sunlight, another coal load crested the hill at Chariton and came over Curtis Avenue.  On the point were BNSF 5635 and 5619, pulling a set of GEAX gondolas.

There ensued lots of discussion about how to get 9617 over the hill.  A plan was laid first to have one of the trailing eastbounds cut off and shove them, but the dispatcher discovered that he had an empty in the CTC at Albia with three units.  It was decided to borrow one of these and add it to the rear of the stalled AEPX load.

Knowing that I had more eastbounds coming, I decided to run down to the bottom of Whitebreast for the next one.  I arrived just a little bit late, and met the train as it came through Shannon.  Knowing that they'd be slowed down by the hill, I turned around and hurried back to the west end of the yard for the intercept at 8:35.  This was the 532 axle load I'd heard earlier at Osceola, BNSF 9946 in front and 9732 behind, with 130 AEPX cars.  This train called one behind it to report that they were, "Over the top" of Whitebreast.

At about 8:50 I heard westbound 9534 get a warrant with a Box 4 from the KC desk in order to come west of the CTC and run up behind 9617.  By now there was a second westbound at Albia and another waiting at Iowa Avenue in Ottumwa.  I'd seen two eastbounds behind the stalled load, and knew that another was coming up Whitebreast.  Unless 9617 could be moved to the ICE, things would be pretty well plugged for the two Amtrak trains.

I called Rich to see how the special was doing.  He said that they'd gotten out of Pacific Junction around 8:30 and that No. 6 was about 45 minutes behind them.  I told him to figure on running Main 1 from Creston to Ottumwa, using Main 2 only at Albia.  All of the other trains had been told that 9716 would move to the ICE and then "Everyone will hold still for two Amtraks".  It sounded as if there might be yet another westbound in the mix, an empty waiting to get out of the electric plant at ISU switch.

At 9:14 the last load ahead of the passenger trains came into Chariton.  This was a set of CEFX cars with "patched" BNSF 9454 and ex-Santa Fe 8279 in charge.

I decided to intercept the passenger special at one of my favorite photo locations, a wooden bridge overpass on the road to Stephen's Forest.  I had about a 45 minute wait before the Amtrak special, AMTK 61 and two Horizon cars, came speeding by on Main 1 at 10:11 and headed into Lucas.  I had a short conversation with Rich to see if I had time to make Osceola ahead of No. 6, and then took off westbound on Hwy. 34.  Eight trains now waited between Chariton and Ottumwa for the two passenger trains.

After arriving at the depot in Osceola, I walked to the far east end of the platform so that I wouldn't be harassed by Pat and J.R., who were currently busy yelling at a passenger that wasn't following to the letter their posted rules.  The Zephyr's engineer called in about 10:35 to report that they were seven miles out and running on Main 1 today.  Pat and J.R. herded their passengers across to the north side of the two mains.  As the train came into sight, a few stragglers on both sides hurried across the rails.  The head end of the train rolled slowly by the customers and pulled to a stop at 10:51.  In today's consist:

AMTK 76, 65 and 507
Baggage 1852
Transition Sleeper 39026
Coaches 34075, 34054 and 31533
Sightseer Lounge 33032
Diner 38021
Sleeping Cars 32033, 32047 and 32115 "Washington"
Three boxcars and three Roadrailers
The train made two spots, one for coach and the other for sleeping car patrons, and was on its way again at 10:55.  "Julie" called that one pretty well.

I'd planned to head on over to Creston and had not heard of anything eastbound yet behind the Zephyr.  The departure time on No. 6 meant that none of the four westbounds waiting east of Halpin could be at Creston before 1:30 or so.  I took my time on the drive over, scouting out some photo locations at both ends of the Talmage Hill area and listening for anything out of Creston.

I got to Creston just before noon and found a DP load getting a crew.  On the point was BNSF 8900 (just toss that cold coffee out the window...) and in back of the ESCX/PSTX cars, BNSF 5636.  Several units were idling near the west end of the yard, EMDX 745, EMDX 824 and BNSF 2844.

8900 pulled at 12:10.  I went to "Bullock's" crossing east of the yard for pictures and then chased the train eastward along Hwy. 34 to a gravel road overpass just west of Talmage.  I took a few pictures as the lead unit snaked downhill toward the viaduct where the C&GW once passed under the CB&Q on the way to St. Joseph.  Pretty soon the rear unit arrived and followed the coal cars down and across the bridge.

I'd heard two more trains approaching Creston from the west when I was in town, so I moved over to the east end of the Talmage area and waited by the detector, around MP 378, for the next one.  They crossed the viaduct at 12:45, with BN 9696 in front and 9689 shoving behind.

Hoping to catch one of the westbounds coming up through the "ess" curve west of Talmage, I moved back to the  site where I'd photographed 8900's train and worked on the Sunday crossword.  After an hour, I decided to give up, go back into Creston and get something for lunch.  About five minutes away from the bridge, I heard the detector at 378 announce a westbound - nuts!  At that point I sort of fell out of sync. with today's traffic on the BNSF and managed to just miss several westbounds.

The first westbound into Creston was BN 9534, with 9429, the train that had given a unit to stalled 9617 earlier in the day.  While I was in Creston, a unit train of empty autoracks pulled out, so I got back on the highway to see if I could get ahead of them anywhere.  At the Hwy. 34 overpass, I saw another coal empty coming into town, 9526, 9595 and 9447 with NCUX cars.  In a couple of minutes I heard the detector at the east end of Talmage report another westbound!

With two old green SD's and only 49 empties, they moved right along.  The autorack train was right over my shoulder as I approached Afton - this would be close...  I pulled into town and went down to the grain elevator as fast as I could.  I was just a few seconds too late for the westbound, an OGSX empty that had been waiting earlier at ISU with BNSF 9730 and 9988.  I did get the autorack train, coming into Afton at 2:00 and meeting the coal empty with BNSF 7037 and FURX 8090.  I really didn't expect to catch them again, but the autoracks slowed considerably going through Murray and I got a couple of images of 7037 and 8090 as they rounded the curve just west of Osceola at 2:24.  I paced the rear end into town, with a couple of the racks near the end of the train wobbling violently at 60 mph.

At this point I decided it was finally time for some lunch and pulled into Hardee's in Osceola.  This was a double mistake because naturally another empty, UCEX cars, went by while I was inside.  The second mistake?  Try one of this chain's new streamlined menu, "Thickburgers", and you'll figure it out - 1/3 lb. of wet, gray cardboard.  I drove to the depot for lunch, but threw away all but a couple of bites of my sandwich.

Fortunately, I was in place when, at 2:42, the detector east of town notified me of another westbound.  This turned out to be 118 DTCX cars pulled by BNSF 5618 and UP 6640.  That was the day's fifteenth train, a good catch in spite of the near misses in the afternoon.  I decided to head for home.

That's It!